Parenting is probably the one thing in life where people aren’t really open to each other’s approaches.
I mean, in theory, yes: we’re all different, we all raise our children slightly differently, and the world marches on. In practise though, if you’re doing something very differently to how I do it, one of us is potentially doing it very wrong, and both has the potential to think “she thinks I’m a bad parent because I don’t do it like that.”
Perhaps because I’m a single mother, perhaps because I tend to look on average about seven years younger than my age (I’m not showing off; nobody ever believes how old I am), perhaps because the blog means I am more public than most… either way, I get a lot of advice. And I also seem to attract a lot of what can only be classed as “advice” in the loosest sense of the word, because what they’re really doing is explicitly telling me what to do.
Parents whose children are grown are worst for this, in my experience. Now that their daily grapple with whether they’re doing the right thing is fading into memory, they forget. They’ve long since made their choice of parenting style, and if you hear their wise words and choose a different approach, some take this as some form of slight: oh, so what I did with my son was wrong then!
I’ve never been someone who took well to being told what to do. Since leaving an abusive relationship, I react even more badly. I try very hard not to sound like I am telling people what to do; when I see Facebook posts asking for advice I begin my comments with what worked for me… or have you tried… When I see comments from other people telling people they should punish the child, take away their toys or whatever else, I bite my tongue and move on. I get increasingly angry when the same courtesy is not afforded to me!
I know some people think I’m a bit of a hippie, that I’m too soft on S, that I’m doing it all wrong. The potty training issue, especially, seems to have invited an awful lot of uninvited opinion. I don’t much care. I’m all for people sharing ideas and opinions, telling me what they did or are doing with regard to raising their own children. By all means, tell me what worked for you. It’s really useful when people say, I tried this, and I wish I hadn’t or I tried this and it really didn’t work for us.What is not useful is imposing your opinion on someone else.
Parenting is a very emotive subject; we all like to think we’re doing the best possible job, and nobody likes for it to be suggested – however quietly or implicitly – that they have not done the best job. Unlike growing flowers or doing accounting work, there are numerous ways of doing it, and the outcome has a direct effect on wider society. Nobody cares if your roses never bloom, and if you’re rubbish at accounting, you just won’t have any clients – but if you suck at raising your child, that’s something that can affect everyone around them as they grow. In this way, everyone in society has a vested interest in your doing a good job of raising your child… But still, nobody enjoys being told they are wrong – especially by someone whose opinion was not requested. And unlike my examples, where if you’re wrong the flowers don’t bloom or the books don’t balance, nobody really knows for definite, 100% one way or the other about the best way to go about parenting a child.
If I won’t listen to Gina Ford or Supernanny or whoever else, I have no idea what makes these people think I will listen to them. I resent the implication that I need someone to tell me what to do. Even when I post on Facebook saying “hmm, not sure what to do about this” I still don’t feel that warrants someone instructing me on how to raise my child. It drives me batty. In the last week I have had several people approach me to tell me what I should be doing. It’s time to potty train, apparently. And I should leave S to cry if she doesn’t fall asleep as soon as her head hits the pillow. She definitely shouldn’t be sleeping in my bed, and should have been moved to her own room long ago.
I believe what these people are actually saying is something more along the lines of:
I pushed my child to potty train and it makes me uncomfortable to see you resisting that… what if I shouldn’t have pushed my child?
I always left my child to cry and your approach makes me think perhaps I should have given her more cuddles.
My child never once slept in my bed; I wish we could have had that closeness.
I put my baby in his own room from six months, and it had never occurred to me that I didn’t have to. Now that I see you’re doing it, it’s too late to go back and do things differently.
Once when I refused some advice, someone did actually say to me, oh, I did that with my daughter; perhaps I’m just a bad mother!
I don’t care how you are raising your child now; I don’t care what you did five, ten or fifteen years ago. All I care about is that you remove your nose from my business! A million times a day, I resist the urge to tell people I think they’re doing it wrong. I think you’re speaking to your child like shit and it’s wrong. I think you should learn how to spell and use punctuation, if you’re going to publish your writing on the internet for the world to see. I think you should really make more effort with your website if you expect people to buy your product. I don’t do it though – it’s rude.
Now I am finding myself in a position where my only possible response to “well meaning” advice is to be rude in return. Consider this fair warning: no more Ms Nice Single Mother Ahoy.
Tim · 03/10/2014 at 14:25
I know exactly what you mean. Suggestions and sharing experiences is one thing, but when advice turns to judgement it does get very annoying. As if there’s one ‘right’ way of parenting that works for all children! And if you politely decline to follow said advice immediately, you are branded a bad parent.
As a dad out on his own with a young child, I’ve often received ‘advice’ from people or been on the end of *that* sort of disapproving look. Thankfully I have a fairly thick skin anyway!
Vicky Charles · 03/10/2014 at 14:52
Oh, yes – as a man, you clearly have no clue how to care for your child! You must do as every nosey busybody on the street says!
bethan read · 03/10/2014 at 21:52
Oh my god! This is on my list of things to blog about! RANDOM STRANGERS are what drives me bonkers!! I don’t understand why they think they know why your baby is crying? People always have opinions, and I don’t take kindly to them anymore either. They need to do one! If your child is happy , then that is ALL that matters and that you are happy too! Actually I think our parenting style is pretty similar in terms of not pushing things and bed sharing! : )
Vicky Charles · 04/10/2014 at 09:27
Thanks Bethan! I know what you mean, when S cries in town and people walk past making comments, it’s like “er, you know nothing about us; knob off!” I get it off supposed friends too though, which can be tricky. They say it with such authority, don’t they? As if they have all the answers… and yet they don’t have their own TV show about parenting.
martyn · 31/03/2015 at 09:12
Couldn’t agree more!! Fab post. We’re all different and so are our children. I’ve never known why some people believe they have the right to suggest things when help isn’t asked for.